By Phil Hough
The Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness, and others, have been involved for many years in the effort to protect the Scotchman Peaks as wilderness to ensure it will always stay the same. Naturally, we are disappointed by the outcome of the recent Bonner County advisory vote.
We are proud of, and want to thank, our board, staff, campaign partners, volunteers and the many supporters who ran a campaign that was run with honesty, integrity and hard work. We stayed with positive messages and continued to build community and partnerships. Local voices from diverse backgrounds stepped up, including timber folks, mountain bikers, hunters and anglers, conservative politicians and business people, a growing coalition of folks dedicated to conserving this special place.
Ideology sometimes overwhelms consideration of issues on their merits. Unfortunately, in this election, misinformation spread quickly. Inaccurate information about land ownership or management, particularly false claims about fire management and search and rescue, left some voters confused or uncertain about what wilderness designation means. While some voted against the proposal on principle, others who voted against it likely did so because of confusion and uncertainty caused by this misinformation. When not sure, a “no” vote may seem to be the safer option.
Despite this, over 4,800 supporters voted in favor of wilderness. This is a number to be reckoned with, not ignored, especially considering the many obstacles in the path of a victory. Despite the outcome, or perhaps because of it, this vote has strengthened the bonds of the community of folks dedicated to wilderness.
Clearly, many people care deeply about public lands. There is also a clear need for more education about public lands, natural resources and recreation management.
We are dedicated to providing a better understanding about the need for wilderness, its challenges, opportunities and values, including the freedom, hope and promise it provides.
While it takes congressional designation to fully implement the forest plan’s vision of wilderness, this vote does not change the current management of the Scotchman Peaks by the U.S. Forest Service. We will continue to be strong advocates for preserving the wilderness characteristics now while looking to the future for designation. And we will work to keep these wild lands as they are right now, open to all people, closed only to motors and machines (except when needed for fighting fire or for emergencies involving health and human safety).
We have been doing “boots on the ground” work for 13 years to make sure that trails stay open to the public. This work is as important now as it would be after wilderness designation. With shrinking budgets, volunteers are needed to keep trails open. We will continue to train volunteers in the use of pulaskis, cross cut saws and other tools and organize field days to build and maintain trails suitable for hikers and horses.
Our hiking maps and volunteer-led hikes will continue to offer opportunities for individuals to explore the area.
Our weed warriors will continue to monitor and work on mitigating weeds (to help, pick up a copy of our Scotchman Peaks/Cabinet Mountain weed guide.)
Our Mountain Goat Ambassador program, in partnership with the forest service and Idaho Department of Fish and Game will continue to deploy volunteers to educate people about safe and responsible behavior around mountain goats, making the trail safer for both. This program is vital to keeping the area wild and keeping it open to the public.
Our Winter Tracks program over the last four years has provided unique wintertime, outdoor education for over 700 kids from over 14 schools, from four counties and three states, teaching tree identification, animal tracking, animal behavior and biology, orienteering and avalanche awareness, so they can appreciate the natural landscape.
We will continue training volunteers in Wilderness First Aid (over 60 in the last five years).
The path to wilderness legislation is often long, but we are committed to building a stronger community of supporters and providing the boots on the ground care-taking and natural resource education needed to get there and needed to taking care of the wilderness character right now. It is just too important.
We need places that are wild and free, places unaltered by the hand of man, places with the freedom to roam in awe and wonder of the wild outdoors. We will work to leave a legacy of wild country to this next generation and all future generations.
The community of wilderness supporters and stewards is growing, but there is always room for more people. To help keep Scotchman Peaks open to the public, come swing a pulaski, become a Mountain Goat Ambassador and educate hikers, or become a Winter Tracks volunteer to touch the lives of area students in winter months, or just come join us for a hike!
Find out more at www.ScotchmanPeaks.org.
Phil Hough is the executive director of the Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness.